Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Eliminating PCBs from Ballasts

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Eliminating PCBs from Ballasts

Article excerpt

In some states, the PCB ballasts in fluorescent light fixtures are considered hazardous waste and must be handled accordingly. Nearly all ballasts, made before 1979, contain PCBs, and those made after 1979, which do not contain PCBs, must be labeled "No PCBs" for easy identification.

According to Mitchell L. Dong, president of FulCircle Ballast Recyclers, Cambridge, Mass., anyone involved with utility rebate programs, the EPA's Green Lights Program, or other lighting retrofit projects must be fully informed about the safe handling and disposal of PCB ballasts. "FulCircle's Practical Guide to PCB Ballast Disposal," written by Dong and Brin McCagg, aids the reader in deciding the best means to dispose of PCB ballasts.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), suspected of causing cancer in humans, are classified as toxic substances by EPA. According to the Centers for Disease Control, workers exposed to PCBs have developed chloracne, liver injuries, irritation of the skin and mucous membranes, and adverse reproductive effects.

Dong points out that, "While there is only a small amount of PCBs in each light ballast, there is a huge number of ballasts in the U.S. which aggregate to a large quantity of PCBs in buildings."

According to the guide that Dong co-authored, there are between 400 million and 1.6 billion ballasts in the U.S., approximately half of which contain PCBs. Each ballast has approximately 1 oz of pure PCBs, which translates to as much as 40 million lb of PCBs in buildings in the U.S. alone.

According to Dong, two federal laws affect the disposal of PCB ballasts: the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). In addition to federal laws, PCBs are considered hazardous and are regulated by 15 states -- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, and Washington.

Dong recommended sorting out ballasts which contain PCBs from those that do not, since disposal costs for the two are very different. PCBs, said Dong, are clear or yellowed oil, and most PCB leaks are visible. In some cases, however, internal leaks from the capacitors into the ballasts are not visible.

Workers must wear chemical-resistant gloves, said Dong, and, if working with a leaking ballast, must wear a face mask and chemical-resistant suit. …

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